By Bernie Dodd
Lorne Sanny, a former Navigator president, gave a quick but powerful presentation about leadership at a small conference many years ago. He stood and quoted Lamentations 3:22-23: "It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: Great is Thy faithfulness" (KJV). Everyone expected him to expound on the verse; however, without further comment, he sat down!
Lorne’s words pretty much sum up the basis of biblical leadership: Leaders don’t have a chance of succeeding without God’s mercies. But as I look back on the 25 years I spent as leader of our Navigator work in French-speaking Africa and Europe, I would like to add a few thoughts about leadership for the emerging generation.
It’s a Long Journey, so Rely on God and His Promises
When God spoke to Jacob at Bethel, He renewed His promise to bless all the nations, a promise He first gave to Abraham. But God didn’t just give Jacob a promise; he also trained him for at least twenty difficult years. Upon Jacob’s return to Bethel, he renamed it El-Bethel. Without delving into a Hebrew lesson, this act demonstrated that his focus was now on the God of the promise, rather than on the promise alone (see Genesis 35:7).
Why did God take Jacob through such an arduous journey? His primary goal was to deepen Jacob’s dependence on God and His promises rather than on Jacob’s own schemes.
Be a Servant-Leader: There’s Always Room for One More Servant!
Biblical leadership is primarily influence through service. Acts 7:35 says, This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God Himself. I have sought to imitate leaders who have delivered others and who have influenced and empowered me with mercy and love. By contrast, I’ve avoided imitating those who lead by dominating others in order to accomplish their ministry goals.
We Can’t Finish the Race Alone, so Team Up with Others
When I was selected in 2004 to be Regional Director of Europe, several friends shared Micah 6:8 with me. "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." One friend wrote a note saying, “That is all we ask!” So my goal was to team up and be with people, to listen and understand, to give feedback, to pray for and with them, to be in the Word together. In other words, I wanted to be an “alongsider” who helped people become the best they can be, much as Barnabas helped Mark become useful to Paul (2 Timothy 4:11).
Understand the Context, so that the Gospel Can Flow Freely
Jethro counseled Moses to select godly men to share leadership with him (Exodus 18). These 70 men, centuries later, became the Sanhedrin—a stalwart religious form that had lost its original purpose. What was first established to meet a need had become a rigid form that killed the Giver of Life! A good idea might become irrelevant—or something worse.
After David became king of Israel, the Philistines attacked him. He prayed for guidance and defeated them. Later, he used a different tactic to ambush and defeat the enemy (2 Samuel 5:17-25). This illustrates the need to continue asking what God wants us to do in different contexts. Some methods will continue to be useful but others will need to change.
These are some important lessons to consider as we serve. But we should always remember, as Lorne Sanny made so clear, that we have this ministry only because His compassions fail not. Great is His faithfulness.
Bernie and Jo Dodd became Navigator staff in 1973, being involved first in campus ministry. They served as missionaries in Africa for 26 years and then 10 years in Europe. In 2012, Bernie concluded his role as Europe Regional Director. He and Jo are now on sabbatical in the UK. They have two grown daughters.